A Red Bull Music Academy 2010 alumnus, Chiba native Daisuke Tanabe is the kind of lone wolf electronic artiste who is more at ease crate-digging at a second hand record store and producing tunes in his bedroom than traipsing Tokyo’s nightlife to discover more of the local scene. Having had lived in London for some years early on, Daisuke’s initial genre inclination naturally reflected whom he made peers of at the time – he’d performed with Zero DB and published for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, breakbeat and techno luminaries. But the former art student has since expanded his soundscape, the Daisuke Tanabe ‘sound’ doesn’t just encompass instrumental hip hop, jazz, reggae, and dance, he’s dabbled with pretty much the entirety of the UK’s canon of electronic music. Now with two full-length albums under his name and one collaborative LP with RBMA 2010 fellow Kidkanevil, plus many an EP in the interims in between albums, Daisuke has built an impressive discography to make him one of the more prominent Japanese names to have come out of the Academy. Among the many subjects we discussed with him, JUICE spoke to the man on his thoughts on vinyl and found out that he excavates more than just old records…
As a RBMA 2010 graduate, how has Red Bull helped you?
I [got] a chance to play at many places, many festivals since I participated. That [was] one of the biggest things they did for me. Also, they got so many followers, so after it happened, I’ve got many people following my music – that was quite good for promotion. And also, I met so many artistes I couldn’t really imagine meeting because I cannot really Google them, there is no information about those musicians. But there are also a lot of musicians on the internet and they are like super great. It was really nice to open my eyes [to this new world].
When you were a participant in 2010, before you went, what did you think about having to collaborate with all the other participants? How did you imagine it before you went and how did it then actually work?
Personally, I’m not really good at doing collaborations. I’m always building my music, like [the] details, by myself, so I used to kinda hate it (laughs) – I don’t like to collaborate [with] anyone. Because at the time I didn’t really trust other people’s music taste, but it’s not really because I’m thinking I’m good or something like that – it’s not that. I cannot really balance creatively with another [person] when I collaborate, but to participate in Red Bull Music Academy, I really have to collaborate with someone…
… so you did?
Yeah, I did (laughs). But it ended up really nice because many of the participants are really professional, they are really good, amazing musicians.
Just out of interest, how many times did you apply?
Uh. Only once (laughs).
I didn’t know about [Red Bull] Music Academy before though.
How did you get to know about it?
Nobu (Sauce81). He told me about [Red Bull Music] Academy. So I knew [that] RBMA [was] happening in 2010. It was 2009, application time.
Were you overwhelmed by all the questions on the application form, or did it make sense to you? Like “Okay, they want to get to know me as a person, not just an artiste.”
You mean the application? I really enjoyed [it] actually. Typical interviews are usually really not fun (laughs) – always super basic questions, like “Who is your most influential musician?” I cannot really choose only one [person], one artiste. But the Red Bull application was really fun to fill up, it was like having a psychological test or something. Not really asking me about music, mostly asking me about who I am as a person.
How long did it take or you to fill up the form?
Quite a long time!
You just got back from a tour. How well you think is the Asian scene connected or how well are you connected with other people in the region?
I think Asian countries are really connected strongly but I feel – I personally feel – because I don’t really know the [other musicians] in Japan, but I personally feel Japan is kinda the only country that is not really connecting with other Asian countries. I guess it’s because of the language barrier.
Japan has an isolated culture. That’s why you guys are so sufficient.
Yeah, yeah. Geologically and historically.
Anyway, are other Asian countries really connected or just a handful of the promoters?
I’m not really sure, but I know a few promoters in several Asian countries and they all know each other.
What about the actual audience? Do you see a big difference when you look at the audience from all these different Asian countries?
I don’t know much about the Asian scene. I think it depends on the venue. If I’m playing like a proper, proper crowd… People are quite similar, they want to listen to some kind of particular music. If I’m playing in the country side and then I guess, I’m guessing everything is quite new for them, so they are like really enjoying our music, us, a completely new thing. But if it’s a proper crowd, then people enjoy something they’ve already memorised in their mind.
You mentioned that prior to Red Bull, you were sorta like a lone wolf. But with the Music Academy, you should know that it’s all about socialising and working together with other musicians. What made you want to join Red Bull Music Academy when you were a lone wolf before?
Actually, I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I have to collaborate. I was just applying Red Bull Music Academy for [my] future (laughs). But of course I searched about the Academy when I’m applying and a lot of people told me that there were a lot of lectures and good opportunities to play at clubs. On the first day, I was really nervous because I had to introduce myself to other musicians and, you know, the team.
Are you now more comfortable with collaborating with other musicians or have you gone back to your lone wolf situation?
Kinda, half and half. Now I know that I can work with someone but I need to be careful as to whom I’m working with. I tried a few collaborations after the Academy but almost like 70%, 80% of the time, it was very awkward (laughs).
Has it changed you musically now – how you approach making music?
Maybe half and half, I don’t think the Academy [changed] my music trajectory. But after the Music Academy happened, I played at so many gigs and festivals. But [in] playing gigs and to [a] bigger audience, I definitely knew a new way of producing my music because before, I was more into myself in making music. But when I’m playing live, I have to communicate with the audience, so in a way, it changed my music a lot.
Your background was initially in techno and breakbeat, how did you transition to doing more hip hop, beat music?
To be honest, I listen to music which [was] inspired by hip hop, but I never really listen to real hip hop. So, I was just influenced by music inspired by hip hop (laughs).
How’s your daily life now? Are you a full-time musician now?
It’s up and down. When I do quite a good music job, I don’t have to do my day job for a few months.
What is your day job?
It [changes] a lot. I used to do… well, I cannot really put myself in the same job because Japan is quite tough. You cannot really have a long break if you’re working in an office. It’s difficult, so I have to choose something really flexible. I used to do excavating, like archaeology? There is a professional, a professor conducting a team to dig and find stuff. The job was really easy going (laughs).
But you’re not much of an academic yourself?
No, I don’t know much about archaeology. But since I started the archaeology stuff, I kind of learnt by myself – when I find something strange or interesting, I would ask the professor, “What [are] these things?”, “How are they used?” It’s interesting.
Talk to us about the scene in Tokyo, because when foreigners like us read an article about the Japanese scene, we would think like “Oh! Something is really going on there.” But the Japanese acts we spoke to say otherwise; things aren’t really that thriving here. Is it the same for you?
I don’t really go out to clubs. I don’t know much about the Japanese music scene, to be honest. I’m not really sure. What they said, I kinda half-agree. I think I agree because a lot of [foreign] music friends have told me that Japan is so exciting; there’s so many weird, weird sh!t going on. But yeah, there is so many weird music going on, but if the scene were really huge, really, really strong, then I must know about it. Because I know some strong, huge scenes from other countries, but I don’t really know about strong or big scenes in Japan, even when I’m living in Japan! So, I think there are so many things happening here, but at the same time not really?
Are you a record shop guy? Do you like shopping for vinyl?
Yeah I do, I do, I really do buy records but I don’t really buy music from record shops – more towards recycle shops? I like digging in a recycle shop because it’s more random. To go to a record shop, for me, is kind of boring because you can find whatever you want, almost. If it’s like extremely rare, then maybe you can’t find the music. But mostly you can find records in excellent condition if you go into Shibuya’s record stores – you will find what you want. So then, maybe you would only find what you know. I like recycle shop digging, it’s more random. There’s no shop owner. I find so many super weird stuff, just by the cover. The price is always cheap, like a dollar, everything is a dollar.
Speaking of records, is vinyl really coming back as the medium of choice?
I think so, but vinyl is kind of standard for a long time.
A lot of newer musicians want their music to be out on vinyl…
I sometimes think about that. But you know, now you can release music in any format, especially if you want to release music digitally. There is no risk. You don’t have to take risks. But I like the feeling of having physical things because maybe I’m older, I still like to have actual things, holding it in my hand, I like the smell; like the [feeling] of paper.
Still, you wouldn’t buy a new record?
I do, sometimes. If I really like the music, but yeah, I like vinyl as a tangible collectible. But to listen to an album, I think digital or CD is a good enough of a format. Because regardless, there is a flow from the beginning to the end.
Just to wrap everything up, as a former student, obviously no one really knows how to get into RBMA, but based on what you wrote on your application form, what would say is that one thing that attracted them to accept you as a student?
I don’t know (laughs). I wonder too. I was trying to be honest, not trying to be attractive. Maybe you should enjoy writing [the answers on the form].